Memorial Day in Your Face

Many Americans consider Sunday evening television programming their chance to unwind from their busy weekend and to settle down in preparation for the new workweek. In the absence of a NFL football game, I suspect that news magazine shows like 60 Minutes meet the viewing needs of a large portion of adult Americans. The show's long-running legacy attests to its success. I caught part of the show last Sunday May 30, 2004. The Andy Rooney segment dealt with memorializing our fallen war soldiers.

Initially, his report gave the false impression that there is a disproportionate amount of attention directed toward the casualty count from our current war in Iraq. He rattled off body count numbers from the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War that when combined totaled nearly one million war dead. It appeared that he was going to conclude that the nearly 1,000 American deaths in the Iraq War are not so significant by comparison. But just as Rooney had skillfully drawn us into his trap and we were ready to throw something at our TV sets, he said that for the next eleven minutes we would be viewing the faces of the Americans killed in the war in Iraq. Four photos at a time scrolled across our screens at just the right pace to get a glimpse of each dead American soldier. The majority of the photos were the cookie cutter variety standard pose of the soldiers, men and liberated women, standing in their dress uniforms by the American flag. But not every soldier was represented this way. Some were obviously high school pictures and others were snapshots of the soldier holding one or more of their children. A few were taken showing the soldier in uniform looking into the faces of their babies. The father and child or mother and child shots would have served a photo essay contest well in the category of contrast, showing the loving, caring parent message contrasted with the war-ready soldier prepared to fight and make sacrifices for our country, both captured on one 8×10 glossy.

It was a long eleven minutes but it was the kind of event all of America needed to see. We needed to be reminded that every man and woman who has paid the ultimate price for this senseless war was somebody who was loved and someone who will not be forgotten. We needed to see also that the nearly 1000 war dead have supreme significance. The person who needed to see this memorial most was George W. Bush because the Iraq War is his war. It was his administration that ignored intelligence reports that did not support his myopic insistence that America had to invade Iraq. He is the man who wrongfully tossed about claims of weapons of mass destruction and claims of ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama Binladen. He is the master chef who cooked up his brew of bad intelligence. It is his administration that has kept an inadequate-sized force of American soldiers struggling with the impossible role of occupiers in a country that now has plenty of reason to hate us.

Lets take the gloves off and say what the major news media outlets are obviously too afraid to report. Our president put this country into a war for the purposes of making billions of dollars for his circle of friends and relatives who profit from the war industry, e.g., Halliburton Corporation, Kellogg, Brown and Root Co., and The Carlyle Group. The economic issues alone will leave our children and their children paying for years and generations to come. Bush also wants to control a strategic portion of The Middle East by establishing military bases in what was Iraq before America annexed it into our 51st state. This action will allow him to keep the peace in Oil town while maintaining a ready force to support the symbiotic relationship America fosters with Israel.

All of this was accomplished by a non-combat president who manipulated service in The Air National Guard, in spite of his lowest possible test scores, for the sole purpose of avoiding combat duty in Vietnam. A president born in New Haven, Connecticut who thinks he is a Texan just because he can talk with a drawl through that ever-present smirk. The same smirk that advertises he does not care what anyone thinks because he will get his way no matter how wrong or how criminal just as he has done his entire privileged life. A president who acts without apparent conscience and readily sends other men into battle to fight and die for his agenda. A president who surrounds himself with incompetence in the likes of Rumsfeld and Feith and skullduggery in the likes of his personal Svengali and dirty trickster, Karl Rove. A president whose sole redeeming act, one that might save The Republican Party and our country from permanent embarrassment would be to resign from office.

Hopefully, the images of the soldiers killed in the Iraq war will stay with everyone who saw the memorial. Imagery is a powerful tool. We seem to have a video card in our brains that is capable of drawing up images from our past and bringing us right back to that point in time. While assigned to a remote firebase in Vietnam I experienced an event that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Our team of rangers was on a stand-down, meaning our team was in the firebase while another team was out on patrol. It was nearing dusk and I was sitting on top of a bunker trying to catch a cool, never-present breeze. Helicopters started landing at the staging area near our bunker. They were unloading body bags and going back out for more. It was an unusual sight because our KIA's were usually taken directly to our main divisional headquarters. It was obvious that we had too many to handle using standard operating procedures and they needed to get the dead off the battlefield.

The bodies were placed in a neat row next to the landing area. As subsequent deliveries were made, the bodies were stacked much like one might stack firewood. Combat soldiers see many surreal images in their battle experiences. This image was strange to me because it seemed that someone ought to have been there to care about these dead Americans. Missing was the tears these men surely deserved. It occurred to me that the effect of this collection of dead Americans would not be felt by their loved ones for some time. I was unsure of the efficiency of the dreaded telegram the family would receive and unsure of how long it took for Middle America to receive their boxes of sadness. I was very sure, however, that inside each bag there were the remains of a young man likely covered in blood and Mekong Delta mud. I quit watching the deliveries because I knew it was important not to let the war get to me. I knew that in a day or two I would be out on a mission and I needed my head clear of negative thoughts. This was necessary for my own survival. So I confess to turning my back to the growing death pile. And I confess that I did not go to the bodies as if they needed to be guarded or protected. It did not make sense then, either.

While the evening wore on, I could not escape the sound of helicopters touching down and lifting off. I knew that the sound meant more dead Americans were arriving. At least the war was over for them. I do not have pretty memories of war. I do not remember anything about it being pretty. I recall this experience often. Memorial Day for combat veterans comes about 365 days each year.

I was struck by President Bush's insistence that photos of war dead not be released to the public. He even went to the extreme of having the person responsible for photographing Americans returning in their coffins fired from her job. And just for good measure, her husband was fired as well. Now there are two jobs that were lost due to the war — surely this was not in Bush's economic recovery plan! The sad irony to this event is the photos gave America an image of the war dead coming home in respectfully neat, flag-draped coffins and Bush took this away. The war veterans among us who know what the contents of those coffins actually look like get comfort from seeing the respectful treatment. We know that this is as good as the terror can get. The wimps who invented this war with Iraq and then hired other men and women to go and sacrifice on their behalf cannot stomach the face of death.

This is why I say Bush needs to see the eleven-minute memorial. He needs to put the images of American war dead in his face and own up to his actions and accept the culpability for the horror nightmare he has created.

June 4, 2004